Family law is fascinating in that there are certain issues everyone wants to talk about, and other areas that no one seems to want to talk about. These inclusions and omissions help to give our family law system the characteristics of a cultural and ideological war, where the ‘facts’ too often have the properties of propaganda and policy is seemingly developed politically rather than by sound social research. We urgently need a total change of direction. This is coming with the next generation.
We welcome progress for women, but issues deemed to affect fathers and boys seem to constantly fly under the radar. Few seem to care that fathers get custody in the Family Court at about one sixth the rate of mothers, or get government benefits for child care at about one tenth the rate of mothers. Few policy makers seem to be concerned that the rate of male imprisonment in NZ has quadrupled since WWII and that now most jailed men come from fatherless or otherwise dysfunctional homes. Nobody seems much concerned that research shows that boys from fatherless homes are massively overrepresented in suicides, crime, runaways, or school dropouts.
The policy making bodies in this country seem mostly oblivious to the fact that the fatherless homes they are helping to create are generating the problems they say they can only fix with ever more money and resources. Each time government interventions in the family fail, the government seems to reward itself with ever greater powers to intervene even more.
The net effect of a raft of family law changes and interventions by government over the recent decades has been to produce a profound shift in the social culture of this country. New policies have diluted the family, such as no-fault-divorce and the introduction of government benefits that make radical new household structures financially sustainable (though often they perform very poorly socially). Legislative interventions like the Child Support Act and Property (Relationships) Act have resulted in the transfer of billions of dollars between the genders.
Laws that purport to be gender neutral are not applied in a neutral manner, and laws that purport to put the welfare of children first often have the opposite effect.
Many men have become emasculated, and no longer hold the hope of steady work, stable home, or stable family. Without purpose or future, they become feral. Many women are similarly affected.
Though it is rarely discussed there is a well-established government policy called “gender equity” which is based on the premise that there is not equality between men and women, and that equality can only be achieved by tipping the social playing field in favour of women. In theory, equity leads to equality. Gender equality is a great aim, and logically the first place to apply it is in the care of children.
The logical first step towards parental equality is to declare parents within separating families as nominally equal, with flexible provisions for best care of their children. An essential first step is to introduce shared parenting, in the style of Dr Muriel Newman’s Shared Parenting Bill, tabled in Parliament in 2000. This bill proposed a starting point of 50:50 sharing of custody between separating parents, with wide provisions for rebutting this position in individual cases if evidence indicates some other arrangement is more desirable.
The Shared Parenting Bill was quickly defeated in Parliament. Parliament refused to even allow meaningful discussion on the social merits of the bill. This was a bad move, because it failed to recognise that public attitudes are changing.
Social attitudes are set to change as a new generation takes control in NZ. Many millennials (people reaching young adulthood in the early 21st century) are very much the victims of the past divorce revolution, and they are already displaying a more pro-family mindset with lower rates of promiscuity and divorce.
Research in the US shows that while the divorce rate for over 50 year olds has doubled in the past 25 years, the divorce rate amongst millennials has dropped by 21%. Other recent research has shown that young adults in their early 20s are almost three times as likely not to be sexually active as their parents’ generation. We are told millennials are the Tinder generation, seeking quick hook-ups over the Internet, but this seems to be true of only a tiny minority.
Surely millennials have had enough of broken families; they have been through the breakups themselves or suffered with their friends who have. It may also be that millennials understand and wish to avoid the epidemics of sexually transmitted diseases that have swept their parents’ generation, such as HPV, herpes, and HIV/AIDs.
The entrenched ideologies of the generation who went through the education system in the 1970’s and 1980’s will soon be replaced by a new breed of citizens who understand family and equality better.
The time has come for politicians and policy makers to join the emerging public trend and grasp ideas like shared parenting.